Historically, art was considered only something you could see and touch. Thus, it was easily controlled and managed, with galleries and museums restricting access to (and maintaining the value of) works in limited locations. With the evolution of the online world, art enthusiasts can locate art in its various facilities for viewing and purchasing. In addition, the digital world has provided tools and technology which the artists themselves use to create unique and immersive works which can be seen in person or online from any viewer’s home. With such easy access to portable works of art, how has the fine art market responded?
History of the Fine Art Market
Historically, the fine art market has been led by a relatively small circle of experts and those with deep pockets. It operates in a vacuum, with complicated and opaque valuations and tends and the tendency existed toward local markets. Buyers could only access what they could see, creating defined art communities in cities like New York, Paris and London. Even after the introduction of online access and sales, pieces were still tangible, permanent items which needed to be shipped to another location.
Further, the fine art industry is largely unregulated and misunderstood by those outside of the small circle, and many outsiders consider it secretive. Often newcomers who were looking to invest in art were intimidated by the fast-paced auctions and five- and six-figure prices they encountered when first attending an art auction or visiting a gallery. The art market in general is considered inefficient by most financial experts, which has prevented newcomers from entering in droves.
The relatively exclusivity found within the art industry has led to resistance to major change, including the disruption of new markets and increased access which has come with a more connected world. In an industry based on relationships and not regulations, the anonymity of an online world seems mismatched. However, since art has often been considered “timeless,” the creation of any work that can simply be unplugged and shown anywhere is truly a novel idea to traditional art professionals.
What Digital Art Brings to the Table
One of the key aspects of digital art is its ability to be replicated. Now, there are those who feel this is a good thing and those who don’t; anything that can be duplicated is at risk for reduced value since it is no longer scarce. This is a challenge which must be addressed for the longevity and sustainability of digital art as a respected art form. Blockchain is one answer to this concern, with the idea of “digital scarcity,” a method to ensure ownership and limit editions.
Tech-savvy newcomers have an advantage for entering this market. Computer programmers and engineers express their artistic side with the extensive technological tools now available; not only can they create digital prints and sculptures, but now immersive experiences invite art enthusiasts to enter the work, creating encounters which can be used repeatedly. The unique combination of digital works and digital recordkeeping will push an industry which has been “behind the times” in standardization to follow the new digital culture, both to encourage new participants and to protect those who are already invested.
Digital artists have, so far, kept themselves separate from the larger fine art market, so they have created an alternative art market, in a way. Instagram has been the vehicle of choice for many fine artists, and digital works are no different. As the use of digital tools for both creation and distribution of this new form of art continues to expand, new markets will appear for this art form.
Unique Concerns with Digital Art
Digital art comes with unique concerns that artists, curators, gallerists, and art enthusiasts must take into consideration, including:
- Protecting from piracy
- Providing exclusive rights to digital art to specific galleries, museums, collectors
- Tracking history and provenance of digital works (IP protection)
- Context and background clarification for viewers to fully understand the work
Digital Art as part of the Larger Art Market
Digital art is just one aspect of the digitization of our world. Has it affected the prices and market of more traditional fine art pieces? Probably only slightly. Will it continue to grow and become a valuable and respected form of art, to stand side-by-side with other art forms? As long as people continue to enjoy and share digital art works, its growth can be expected. The explosion of digital art experiences in museums and galleries are perfect reminders of the current modification of the art market in our connected online world.